Discussion: The High Priestess

The second figure the Fool meets on his journey is The High Priestess. Where The Magician represents manifestation of internal powers (with a bit of a flair and sense of showmanship), the Priestess indicates a quiet, unconscious knowing. 

I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with II The High Priestess—she was my third painting, and one I spent a considerable amount of time developing. Most decks depict the Priestess seated before a Temple veil, with the pillars of the Boaz and Jachin to either side, and the ocean visible in the distance. She sits at the seat of all Divine knowledge, and holds the secrets of the Mysteries in her scroll. Her gown flows out before her, reminiscent of the flowing waters that symbolize the unconscious mind in many of Waite’s cards (I took a slightly different tack, preferring instead to blend her robes into the void of space, but the concept is the same).

Many interpreters believe the Priestess to be a reference to Pope Joan; a sort of female analogue to V The Hierophant. Indeed, the TdM appears to depict the Priestess wearing a Papal tiara, and a few decks even name the card “Papess” or “Popess.” I personally do not believe this to be the case, as Joan is almost without exception always depicted with her child. Others believe the Priestess to be more emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In any case, the fact remains that the woman shown in this card is a figure of immense spiritual potential.

In other versions of the card, the Priestess is wearing a crown evocative of the horns of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, though more crescent-moon shaped. Her cool blue robes instill in the reader a sense of calm; a quiet understanding that this woman can be trusted to guide and direct the querent down the right Path, no matter their faith or beliefs.

The High Priestess from The Golden Tarot

The High Priestess from The Golden Tarot

Indeed, in readings the High Priestess often indicates one’s personal relationship with faith, spirituality, or religion (though not as directly as The Hierophant). She can also represent memory or suppressed knowledge. Intuition factors heavily into interpretations of this card, as well as untapped potential. In blockage positions, she may indicate a fear of communicating with someone, or difficulty in being honest with oneself. This card is associated with the moon, which we commonly interpret as a source of feminine power and knowledge. Compared with The Magician, which is a heavily masculine card representing the manifestation of power, the Priestess is much more solemn, subdued, and mysterious.

Personally, I can see why some readers might have difficulty interpreting the subtleties and nuances of meaning in this card. If it weren’t for the significant amount of research I had done before starting my painting, I probably wouldn’t have nearly as strong an understanding as I have, and frankly in writing this post I realize that there are layers of symbolism I unintentionally left out of my version of this card. However, I think the overall message, the theme of the card, is present, and the image of the keeper of Divine knowledge is intact.

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